Senepis Buluhala Tiger Conservation Area - Dumai
106,000 hectares approved by Minister of Forestry
After 3 years of negotiations with provincial and central Government, the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program (STCP) is pleased to report that the Senepis-Buluhala Tiger Conservation Area has finally been approved.
On the 3rd January the Indonesian Minister of Forestry, the honourable M.S. Kaban, signed letters formally approving the creation of a peat swamp forest conservation area, specifically for conservation of the Sumatran tiger, close to the city of Dumai in Riau province.
Indonesia’s concern, enthusiasm and a long-term commitment to ensure a future for wild tigers was further highlighted in the Department of Forestry’s recommendation that the conservation area be extended to cover 106,000 hectares (40,000 hectares more than the original proposal) of this vital, carbon-rich and high biodiversity ecosystem.
Uniquely, the decision to create this conservation area firmly places the burden of responsibility for tiger and biodiversity conservation on the shoulders of industrial forestry companies – those most clearly liable for its destruction in the past. The vast majority (91,000 ha) of the conservation area is made up of land operated by a selective logging, production forestry company (PT Diamond Raya Timber). A further 11,000 ha is provided by the inclusion of a long-established Peat Swamp Protected Forest (Kawasan Lindung Gambut) zone. Finally there is a small contribution (3,850 ha), originally a protected reserve under previous provincial spatial plans, from a neighbouring forest plantation company (PT Suntara Gajapati). These companies will maintain ownership of the land under their concession licences but, according to the Minister’s letter, will be responsible for supporting the mission and activities of the Senepis conservation area in the future.
In early 2005 the 200,000 hectares of existing peat swamp forests in this region supported approximately 60 tigers, making it the 7th largest tiger population in Sumatra, and an important component of Indonesia’s overall efforts to conserve its last tiger subspecies.
In the future it is estimated that the core tiger conservation area defined here will be capable of supporting up to 36 adult tigers - providing that forest destruction, poaching and human-tiger conflict can be minimised. The Indonesian tiger conservation strategy defines such a population level as viable in the long-term only if intensive management can be maintained. As such, future maintenance of tigers, and measures to minimise conflict with humans, will be costly. Particularly as the vast majority of virgin forests surrounding the Senepis Tiger Conservation Area are scheduled, in the immediate future, for clearing and replanting with non-native “fast-wood” species destined to supply the pulp and paper industry. Current plans for forest clearance around the Senepis conservation area are equivalent to the loss of 94,000 hectares of virgin forest and 24 resident tigers.
STCP’s previous experience with tigers around Senepis has confirmed that any the planned clearing of natural forests in the Senepis region will inevitably lead to widespread and acute conflict with humans as some 20-30 tigers are displaced. The costs of forest clearance and plantation development, in terms of human deaths by tigers alone, will be extremely high when forest clearance in neighbouring areas intensifies.
However, some hope rests in the fact that the forest concessions adjacent to Senepis, operated as either joint ventures or wood suppliers for the pulp mills of Asia Pulp & Paper Co. Ltd. (APP), are showing increasing awareness of their industries overriding negative effects on tiger, habitat and biodiversity conservation. Concern within the industry regarding the inextricable links between forest clearance and deaths of both humans and tigers, as a direct result of large scale habit clearance, is a growing trend - and one welcomed by a large cross-section of local, national and international stakeholders.
Certainly a more robust tiger population in Senepis, one less likely to result in desperate and lethal tiger attacks on plantation workers and local villagers, can still be achieved. In recent years international forestry companies in general have, as a result of consumer pressure, moved towards implementation of High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF) assessments in concession areas dominated by virgin forests. These base-line intensive studies, carried out by teams of independent experts, seek to identify areas of a forest concession that are intrinsic to the maintenance of both social and biological “High Conservation Values”. Management and maintenance of HCVF areas, once recognized, then fall under the responsibility of the company itself. In practice this usually results in a moratorium on logging in these particular areas.
Avoidance of wildlife conflict, the resulting death of villagers, and the protection of globally recognised, critically endangered species (such as the Sumatran tiger) obviously represent High Conservation Values of the highest order. The 106,000 hectares of Senepis-Buluhala Tiger Conservation Area will be greatly enhanced, and conflict with humans much reduced, by the implementation and identification of appropriate HCVF buffer areas in adjacent forestry concessions.
Compliance to the HCVF system ultimately facilitates international marketing and “eco-labelling” of the products that originate from these plantations. Fortunately, PT Suntara Gajapati and PT Ruas Utama Jaya (see figure), represent timber suppliers and joint venture partners of an international pulp and paper company (APP) that has already committed to sourcing timber only from non-HCVF areas. Obviously carrying out HCVF assessments in these industrial concessions is an immediate and highest priority of the collaborative management team.
A population of 50 tigers in the Senepis area would be one considered to be independently viable over the long-term, and therefore an appropriate goal for the conservation management team. Given the contribution of the Senepis-Buluhala Tiger Conservation Area, together with forests in HCVF areas within surrounding forest concessions, this target can certainly still be achieved. While still in the balance, the future of tigers in Dumai looks infinitely more positive now with this latest welcome addition to Indonesia’s tiger conservation portfolio.
The rate of development of Dumai City; increased use of land for agriculture; habitat loss from logging and expanding palm-oil cultivation has driven tigers into villages looking for food.
From January 2002 to May 2003 there were numerous accounts from terrified villagers about tigers entering villages and killing livestock. In the last 2 years there has been more than 20 confirmed attacks on humans and livestock resulting in the death of more than 6 people. Continuous confrontation between tiger and humans led to at least 7 tigers being killed by local people and 6 captured and moved to zoos on Java.
Since February 2003 STCP (Sumatran Tiger Conservation Programme) has assisted the local Government in Dumai City, Riau Province, to cope with tiger-human conflict issues. From this close working relationship, and after extensive site surveys, an opportunity emerged to secure a significant new area of tiger habitat as a dedicated tiger conservation reserve and holding center for future problem tigers at a site called Sungei Senipis.
The Senepis Buluhala tiger conservation area is ideal habitat for Sumatran tigers supporting a range of prey and endemic species. Situated in a forest area between Senepis and Buluhala rivers comprising of 60,000 hectares of lowland and swamp forest. The specific objective for the core 40,000 hectares of the tiger zone is the conservation of the Sumatran tiger, its habitat and prey.
The 60,000 hectare area is divided into 2 zones:
Buffer zone: 20,000 hectares surrounding the core. All activities in this zone -including forestry, farming, fisheries, eco-tourism, will be managed and monitored to ensure they are compatible with and benefit the Sumatran tiger and their habitat within the core.
Core Zone: 40,000 hectares with the specific objective of conserving the Sumatran Tiger, its habitat and its prey species in wild conditions.
On 15th August 2003 the reserve was officially designated as a tiger conservation area and within one week a joint team of the Regional Conservancy Office and Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program captured and translocated the first male tiger, aged approximately three years old, out of the villages into the Senepis Tiger Reserve. More recently, on 27th October, a second fully-mature male individual was captured by box trap, then subsequently translocated via a 7 hour boat journey to the Senepis Reserve. Waldemar Hasiholan, manager of the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program, reports “Both tigers appear to be doing well in their new habitat and we continue to monitor their activity by infrared activated remote cameras and surveys in the field”.
These tigers have not been killed or lost to an ex-situ facility (zoo) and perhaps more encouragingly their release has prompted strong demands from local community groups in Sumatra for the return of the 5 previously transferred to Bogor.
Currently the program is working with local Government of Dumai to develop a comprehensive management plan for the Senepis area – including post-release monitoring of tigers by radio-collar, intensive protection patrols, and installation of basic supporting infrastructure. A collaborative management board will strive to link economic benefits for adjacent human communities with the tiger conservation area.